Lately, I've had police on my mind, due in no small part to the media frenzy over shootings in Missouri and the ongoing debate over the militarization of America's law enforcement agencies. In my experience, many police officers have seemed to be a little too invested in exercising authority and not enough in service to their community, but I also know that the work they do is very undervalued and under-appreciated. All in all, I have always thought that the law enforcement officers in Clarke County do an exceptional job of protecting and serving our sweet little slice of the South, taking upon themselves the collective guardianship of a college town where, without their influence, things could quickly get out of control.
There is one thing, however, that is of growing concern to me, and to a number of other local residents whom I have spoken with. This one thing affects the entire community and directly relates to the safety of its citizens and the police officers themselves, and it is something all of us can take personal responsibility for.
The issue I am talking about is the location of traffic stops made by patrol cars, particularly in the campus and downtown areas. All too often, I see police officers stopping vehicles on the road, and remaining there throughout the whole process of explaining the violation and ticketing the offender.
There are several reasons why this is a habit in need of reform. First of all, being struck by a moving vehicle during a traffic stop is the most common way for a police officer to be fatally injured in the line of duty. By simply instructing the driver to move their vehicle or follow the patrol car to a safer location, the officer may be saving his or her life. Secondly, conducting a stop in this manner causes additional violations and puts civilian lives and property in harm's way by forcing other traffic to stop in the middle of the road, cross double yellow lines, or take other evasive action. Last but not least, this tactic unnecessarily tarnishes the idea of law enforcement by being dangerous and discourteous.
For those of you who would like to know what can be done about the problem, I offer this advice: Know your rights and be able to educate others on theirs. It is within your rights and within the law to refrain from pulling your vehicle over until you reach a place where you you feel safe. By not pulling over right away, it is possible that you will agitate or frustrate the officer who is stopping you, and if this is the case, calmly and respectfully inform him or her that you understand the law and were only acting in the interest of safety for everyone involved. Here in Athens, we are privileged to have law enforcement officers who are reasonable and kind enough to appreciate the favor you will be doing them.